by Peter J. O'Connell
Hunter Killer. Released: Oct. 2018. Runtime: 122 mins. MPAA Rating: R for violence and some language.
The eponymous entity of Hunter Killer, directed by Donovan Marsh, is a type of submarine, in this case the USS Arkansas. The Arkansas, commanded by Capt. Joe Glass (Gerard Butler), is dispatched to the Russian Arctic to investigate the loss of another submarine, the Tampa Bay, while it was shadowing a Russian sub. At the same time, a team of Navy SEALs, under the command of Lt. Bill Beaman (Toby Stephens), is sent to observe what is going on at a strategic Russian base in the same region.
The discoveries made by Glass under the sea and by Beaman on the mainland reveal developments that threaten to plunge the world into war. The Arkansas finds the remains of the Tampa Bay and also the Russian sub that torpedoed it, now itself a hulk damaged in a manner that suggests internal sabotage rather than external attack.
In the course of making these discoveries, the Arkansas is attacked by yet another Russian sub but is able to destroy it and rescue survivors from the wreck, including Capt. Sergei Andropov (Michael Nykvist). In the meantime, the SEALs witness Russian Defense Minister Dmitri Durov (Mikhail Goreony) conducting a coup and taking Russia's President Zakarin (Alexander Diachenko) prisoner. The Americans quickly realize that Durov intends to trigger a war.
At this point, the film starts cutting back and forth between Washington and the Arctic, both mainland and undersea. In Washington officials argue as to what response to make to Durov's coup and capture of Zakarin. Admiral Charles Donnegan (Gary Oldman), the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is more warlike in his advice to the U.S. President (Caroline Goodall) than is Rear Admiral John Fisk (Common) or National Security Agency analyst Joyce Norquist (Linda Cardellini).
It's finally decided to have Beaman's team rescue Zakarin and take him to the Arkansas. For that to happen, Glass must persuade Andropov to help by providing knowledge of the minefield that is in the approaches to the Russian base. Tension mounts on land and sea, America and the Arctic as the struggle to make all parts of the plan work takes place. While that struggle goes on, Russian and American fleets start to prepare for battle, and individuals must choose amid conflicting loyalties.
Hunter Killer is consistently exciting, though seldom gripping, despite its competent direction and performances. It may be that just too many movies have made world peace depend on the decisions of a few good men in the field, on opposite sides, such as Glass and Andropov, who respect each other and have to decide whether to go by their instincts forged in experience or by the wishes of their superiors. As the John Crowe Ransom poem puts it: “These armageddons weary me much.” Seeing this movie is entertaining enough for two hours, but if it's not playing nearby, don't kill yourself hunting it up.
“Footnote” to the film: Alexander Diachenko, as Russian President Zakarin, is such a handsome and healthy looking “hunk” that Vladimir Putin barechested on horseback should eat his heart out (if he even has one) with envy.